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Support for Apple’s encryption fight depends on how it’s framed

Support for Apple’s encryption fight depends on how it’s framed
© Getty Images

A new poll in the Apple encryption battle shows how the wording of surveys and their methodology can have a dramatic effect on results. 

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday morning found that a plurality, 46 percent, agreed with Apple’s decision to oppose a court order after they were told that the company fears that its cooperation with the FBI to unlock a terrorist's iPhone could “open the door for hackers and potential future data breaches of smartphone users.”

A total of 35 percent disagreed with Apple’s decision, while 20 percent were not sure. The poll found 54 percent of Democrats agree with Apple, compared to only 37 percent of Republicans.  

Fifty-one percent of people in a Pew Research survey earlier this week, however, sided with the FBI, saying Apple should unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. Only 38 percent said Apple should not. Another 11 percent did not know. 

Pew’s poll offered a brief summary of each side’s argument before asking the question.

“The FBI has said that accessing the iPhone is an important part of their ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attacks while Apple has said that unlocking the iPhone could compromise the security of other users’ information,” it noted.

The Reuters poll offered a more detailed summary of Apple’s concerns, specifically using the words “hackers” and “data breaches.” Unlike Pew, it did not offer a summary of the government’s argument. 

“Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack,” Reuters pollsters said. “Apple is concerned that if it helps the FBI this time, it will be forced to help the government in future cases that may not be linked to national security, opening the door for hackers and potential future data breaches for smartphone users. Do you agree or disagree with Apple’s decision to oppose the court order?”

Other factors could have contributed to the differing poll results. Pew’s poll is based on live phone calls, half to landlines and half to cellphones. Reuters, however, conducts Internet polls drawn from an “online panel.”

Pew surveyed 1,002 people from Feb. 18 to 21, while Reuters sampled about 1,576 from Feb. 19 to 23. A series of other pollsters have also surveyed the issue, with mixed results.